The third largest of the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria is a tropical hotspot just off the coast of northwest Africa that has undeniable pull as a tourist destination. With black lava, white beaches, luxury cruise, and deluxe shopping amongst just some of its attractions, there’s so much to do here that it’s no wonder they call it “a Continent In Miniature”.
Getting in and around
When it comes to arriving at the island, the idea of landing on a cruise ship is inviting, but the most practical way is by plane, with over 70 airlines from all around the world touching down on the airport. As a massively popular tourist destination, finding a flight isn’t difficult and airport transfers in Gran Canaria are just as numerous, dropping visitors off all across the island.
Unless you rent a car, easily done in all resorts, the only other way to get around the island is using those buses. There are no trains in Gran Canaria, after all. We’ll be focusing on the island itself for this guide, but there are ferries available to the other Canary Islands, with a trip to Tenerife being only 2-3 hours away, making it perfect for a day trip.
What to see
The landscape is the real star attraction of the island. The sand dunes of Maspalomas are a true desert by the sea and provide a stunning backdrop to a long walk, if you can tolerate the many nudists that flock to the coast. If the naked power of nature (no pun intended) is what you’re after, however, then the Roque Nublo is well worth seeing. A huge volcanic rock that’s 80 meters tall, it stands proud and alien, an obelisk surrounded by sheer drops and an otherworldly arid landscape not too far from San Bartolome de Tirajana. The heights provide an excellent view of the majestic Teide volcano where long dried black lava is still most visible.
From the dry yellow and black to the shockingly green, the caldera and peaks of Bandama are another reminder of the island’s volcanic history, but provide one of the most stunning arrays of isolated, verdant nature. It’s also a source of some of the island’s oldest history, with cave paintings to be found deep in the caldera.
For nature that’s a little more accessible, Palmitos Park is a great stop and a fantastic park for families with exotic birds, dolphins, and all kinds of wildlife shows to keep the kids enthralled enough to let the adults relax.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of cultural and historic sights to enjoy, either. The Casa-Museo de Colon is an impressive palace and serves today as a museum dedicated to Christopher Columbus, the world’s most famous explorer, with a replica of his ship, La Nina, to explore.
What to do
When you think of sun and sand, you also think of parties and Gran Canaria is home to one of the best in the world: the Gran Canaria Carnival. Rivalling the famous Rio Carnival, there are Queen Galas, Drag Queen Galas, richly colourful street parades, and plenty of revelry to enjoy. If you arrive in February, it’s a must-see. Most of all for the ending ceremony, which we can’t spoil here. It’s worth experiencing fresh.
Surf culture turns an everyday, lovely beach into a real destination and the coast of Pozo Izquierdo is the best place on the island to catch some waves. Suitable for all age levels, there are plenty local surfing schools and the beach maintains a family-friendly, welcoming demeanour most of the time.
Finally, a dive off the coast can have you exploring submerged shipwrecks such at Puerto Morgan or exploring with sea turtles at the Aqua-Marina Dive Centre. Wherever there’s a coast, there’s plenty of opportunities to experience the rich biodiversity of Gran Canaria’s waters.
Idyllic as there is, there’s very little crime to be wary of when visiting the resorts, besides the occasional opportunistic pinching of an unattended bag left on the beach. Any ruckus tends to be caused by tourists who have had too many cocktails by the water. In the large cities, exercise a little more caution. There are some pickpockets, but mostly you will be swamped by people trying to sell you things you definitely don’t want such as bootlegs. Above all else, bring plenty of sunscreen and always ensure you have some bottled water with you. The climate can be described as arid and you don’t want dehydration spoiling your fun.
A well-loved jewel amongst the already popular Canary Islands, Gran Canaria is full of wonderful landscapes to discover, coastal adventures, and one of the best parties in the world. Well worth exploring.